Lesson 4a:  Hebrews 2:5-9

 

David H. Linden University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM USA   revised November 2010

 

As happens often in Hebrews, there is a change from exhortation to exposition.  In preaching his sermon, the writer returns again to teaching.  He will draw his teaching from one Scripture after another – in this section from Psalms and Isaiah.   This is an example in the Bible of good preaching!  It is from God’s Word.

 

In chapter 1, the position of the Son above the angels is stressed.  In chapter 2, angels are again in view, but this time in contrast to man.  In the coming age, will the world be the realm of angels or man?   It will be man’s world, but man is under the curse of God for his sin and has lost his exalted position.  It can be restored to him only through Christ.  In order to restore man to his former glory, the Lord Jesus must become one of us.  He must undergo the curse of death on sin to bring man honor and glory again. 

 

When men do not understand the ways and grace of God, they cannot imagine that the great  Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8) from heaven would submit to humiliation.  No one else would ever do such a thing.  The cross is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).   Hebrews 2 addresses this objection.  It shows the purpose of our Lord’s humanity and death.  As God He could not die, but as man He could and did.  God cannot forgive unless His justice has been satisfied.  The wages of sin is always death; either He would pay the penalty for us or we must pay it ourselves.  “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (9:22).

 

Just as a parent will change the dirty diaper of his or her baby, so Jesus will take on the indignity of the cross for His family.  He would take on the testing and trial of life, the sacrifice of death, and the task of restoring lost glory to the sinners He saves.  The Father will reward His obedience.  In the end, He will lead us in praising of the Father He worships.  Thus the cross is not an embarrassment to us.  It is the opposite, for the gospel reveals the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4).  None of this glorious good news is possible apart from the humanity and humiliation of Jesus.  Hebrews 2 teaches that to bring His family to glory, it was fitting that God … should make the Author of their salvation perfect through suffering (v.10).  His undeserved shame has brought glory to us who deserve only shame, and has given glory to many that was deserved only by One Man, our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The humiliation of Christ is our encouragement.  It is not an obstacle to our faith, because by His suffering Christ has become our High Priest and the source of eternal salvation. 

 

2:5   Angels and the future world    The writer of Hebrews did not need to teach that a future day was coming when everything will be set right in God’s world.  That truth was the common understanding of all reading Hebrews.   But the distorted view of the place of angels is again evident.  (See the Appendix below: A Possible Explanation of the Error Hebrews was Written to Correct.)  The world cannot be subjected to angels because it has already been subjected to Christ Who is enthroned at the Father’s right hand (1:13).  God never said to any angel, “Sit at my right hand …”

 

The age to come is an important theme in Hebrews.  See 6:5 and also 12:28 for “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.”  (Note that 12:28 indicates that it is redeemed mankind – not angels – receiving that kingdom.)  Then there is the city to come in 13:14.   It is dangerous to be satisfied with this present evil world (Galatians 1:4) or to love it (1 John 2:15-17).   In Hebrews, faith is shown by looking for what was to come, a city whose builder and maker is God (11:10).  They were longing for a better country (11:16), and because of this preference for a world in fellowship with God, He is not ashamed to be called their God.   

 

2:6   “Someone has testified”    Though Psalm 8 was written by David, Hebrews does not identify the human author. The writer’s emphasis is that what it says is the Word of God. 

 

2:6-8   The quotation of Psalm 8   Like the false notion mentioned in v.5, ideas spread.  People imagine what the future world will be like.  The Bible does not satisfy curiosity.  Instead it teaches what we need, and gives all that God has decided to reveal and no more.[1]  Understanding comes from God’s Word, not our conjecture.     

 

Hebrews 2:5-9 gives one perspective on the future we should not miss: in some ways the future will be like God’s original creation – one He pronounced “very good” (Genesis 1:31).   In some ways it is different.  Adam and Eve were to have children, but in the future world we will not marry. (In that respect we will be like the angels Matthew 22:30).  Psalm 8 shows God’s design to have man reign over the physical creation, not angels.  If someone reasons that angels are higher than us and therefore they must have a higher position in the future world, that argument runs contrary to what God had established in the original creation.  God had glory and honor for man. This is what He intends to restore through Christ. Already one man in history has been glorified, Jesus.  All who are His brothers will be as well.

 

It may help to see what Psalm 8 does not say!  It does not argue, as we might expect, that man was made lower than the angels, so his place in the physical creation is lower than angels.  1:14 has already indicated that angels serve beings lower than themselves.  Psalm 8 teaches that man is lower than angels, yet God decided that everything would be under man’s feet.  2:8 adds that God did not omit anything in His decision.  The past was, and the future world will be, subject to man.  Psalms 8 and 144:3 are amazed that God has ordained glory and honor for man.  What was God’s purpose for us continues to be.

 

Two expressions in Psalm 8 make us wonder if an allusion to Christ is intended.

 

1).   “son of man”     This the Lord often used as a title for Himself.  (Ezekiel also uses it for himself.)   It is used in a dramatic way of Christ in Daniel 7:13; except for Psalm 80:17, all other uses of it in the OT refer to men who are only men.  Jesus as the Son of David is the ultimate “Son of Man” in Psalm 80:17.

 

2).   “under his feet”    The previous OT text quoted, Psalm 110:1, asserts that Jesus’ enemies will be under Christ’s feet as His footstool. Then the next quotation speaks of everything under man’s feet.  It then points out that not all is presently under man’s feet, but since Jesus is crowned with glory and honor, all things are under His feet.   This sequence of thought is deliberate:

  

a. man’s original position of glory, vv.7,8

b. man’s place lost, v.8

c. Christ lower than the angels, v.9

d. Christ’s exaltation to glory, v.9

e. Christ bringing sons to honor and glory again, v.10. 

 

Psalm 8 is not an explicit prediction of Christ, but only through Him will what is written here ever be fulfilled.  If man had not sinned, he could have retained his glory without the intervention of a mediator.  With no Savior, the psalm would only show us what we have lost and can never regain.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

We find allusions to Psalm 8 in other Scriptures.  Ephesians 1:19-23 speaks of “all things under His feet” (i.e., Christ’s feet) coupled with the words of Psalm 110:1 “seated him at his right hand”.   This reveals the thinking of NT writers that Psalm 8 has its fulfillment in Christ.  See also 1 Corinthians 15:25-27.

 

Everything under man’s feet in Psalm 8 does not conflict with Christ being appointed heir of all things (1:2).  It has always been God’s intention to unite elect humans to Christ with redeemed men becoming co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16,17). 

 

2:8   Not everything is subject to man.   Man has sinned so we experience death, the opposite of glory and honor (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).  We do not see everything subject to man.  The reality of life matches the explanation of Scripture.  Man may only dream of improving the world, but the Bible tells why it is as it is; what it will be, and how.  

 

Everything is subject to Christ.   God made man to have glory and honor. When man lost it, it certainly appeared that the purpose of God for man had been frustrated by Satan.  When the angels sinned, only some joined in that rebellion. When man sinned, the entire human race came under Satan’s power. If it stayed that way, God would be the loser. He would never have any man as He meant for man to be. 

 

Christ as God the Son has all the prerogatives of God. This is the honor due Him as God. As a man He has received the glory and honor man lost through sin. It is restored to this Man because of His obedience and accomplishments on behalf of his human brothers. The exalted Lord returned to what He had before. In the very same action, Christ is also the man crowned with glory and honor.

 

2:9  Man cannot defeat death.  He may attempt it, but he only runs into a divine decision that sin brings death.  He cannot regain glory.  When man glories in himself, he only displays his corruption even more and grows farther from the first man who humbly walked with God.  The gospel is centered in a different man, one from heaven (1 Corinthians 15:47-49).  “But we see Jesus…” – the first use of the Name Jesus in Hebrews.  He was here in human flesh.  He could be seen and touched (1 John 1:1). 

 

2:9   Was Christ made a little lower than the angels, or was He for a little while made lower than the angels?   Both are possible translations. I think it is “for a little while.”  The real sensitivity is how the Son exalted far above angels (1:4-14) could ever be lower.  In becoming man, He was made lower; that is clear.   But Hebrews wants to move from His temporary and brief humiliation to the rapid exaltation of Christ, already crowned with glory and honor. We should not forget that Christ was raised on the third day, not the third year. 

 

Two ‘now’s’     Man does not have now the glory he lost, but Jesus has now the ultimate glory – He is seated at His Father’s right hand.  We see man in a condition of continuing humiliation, not yet with honor and glory, and we see Jesus with no humiliation at all.  (A crucifix preserves the humiliation and omits the glory.)  Our hope is that He will bring us into the glory of a resurrected eternal life where man and God will walk together again in the New Jerusalem.  

 

2:9  The Humiliation of Christ    For the Lord of Glory to enter human life is a great step down.  To live as men do, breathing because dependent on air, eating because dependent on food, etc., is so very different from the transcendent life of God. God needs nothing.  But for Him to enter the experience of sinful man and enter a cursed world, to live in poverty, to face temptation and trials – this is humiliation.  He entered a condition He Himself imposed on man for sin, and then endured its suffering Himself. That is a great wonder, but the height of Jesus’ humiliation was death.  (Philippians 2:8 makes the point that He did not just die; He was crucified!)  Hebrews will not mention the shame of the cross until chapter 12.  Scripture teaches that the reward for Jesus’ obedience was resurrection life, glory and splendor. The suffering was assigned to Him and He took it with purpose (5:8,9).  The high and holy Lord God would not only enter a cursed human life of suffering, He would die for sin He never committed.  The One Who deserved life died and as a result was given His high, seated position with the gratitude of the Father, and the loving worship of His people. Those who do not have a high esteem for Jesus’ humiliation do not know the love and grace of God, nor how unyielding is His holy justice.  If it were not necessary for our salvation, it would be a horror that the Just One should die unjustly.  But 2:9 indicates that His death for others was the result of God’s grace.  It was not to feed a blood-thirst in God, as evil men say.  He tasted (i.e. experienced) death for man.  The Godward aspect of His death comes later in chapter 2; in v.9 we learn that the beneficiaries are humans.

 

2:9  Since Hebrews deliberately employs even minute expressions from the OT, we should note that the Greek words for glory and splendor were used to describe the clothing of priests (Exodus 28:2,40).  In that culture to assume the clothing was to take the position.  Jesus too, has glory and splendor, which signals that He became a Priest.  This fits with the mention of His death, since it is the priestly offering He made.  Now in glory He is crowned with glory and honor.  

 

2:9  Death for everyone   We always need a context to discern who is referred to when it says “everyone” or “all.” In the immediate context following v.9, it is sons that Jesus is bringing to glory, and He is the Author of their salvation. When He makes men holy in v.11, we know Jesus does not make all men holy. 9:15 says Jesus died as a ransom to set free a specific group, those who are called. This indicates that His ransom had a specific goal, the redemption of those called.  It is those called who will be saved (Romans 8:28-30).  

 

Sometimes the “all” in one verse can have two different groups of people in mind. For example, “For as in Adam all  [i.e., the entire race who are in Adam]  die, so in Christ all  [i.e., the full number of those who are in Christ]  will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Another example in Hebrews is 3:16 where those who rebelled are all those with left Egypt with Moses. Joshua and Caleb were in the number but are not actually included in the sweeping language of all in that verse.

 

Appendix A

A Possible Explanation of the Error Hebrews was Written to Correct

 

One Jewish sect had separated itself from much of the Jewish community. Its members were waiting for God to vindicate them as the true covenant-keeping people of God.  They avoided living in Jerusalem because the religious leadership there was corrupt, and it was. They modeled their lives on the order of the children of Israel in the wilderness under Moses and Aaron. They were waiting to return to the city of God in which there would be proper religious practice and devotion.

 

They looked for the legitimate Zadokite priesthood, since King Herod had placed priests in office contrary to the law of God.  Ezekiel 48:10,11 predicted a sacred portion of land reserved for them, containing the sanctuary of the Lord. “This will be for the consecrated priests, the Zadokites, who were faithful in serving me and did not go astray as the Levites did when the Israelites went astray.”  

 

Their hope was that there would be two Messianic figures, not one. One would be a kingly figure, the other a priest, with the priest being the greater of the two. Yet both of these human Messiahs would be subordinate to Michael the archangel (mentioned in Daniel 10:13,21 & 12:1). Thus the world to come (2:5) would be subject to an angel! They also expected another prophet to appear in fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18:18. So their hope for the future anticipated three persons: a king, a priest and a prophet.  And all would serve under an angel.

 

Though these ideas were concentrated in a community that had withdrawn from Jerusalem, the views they held were current, not limited to one location. Probably some Jewish believers professing Christ were influenced by and attracted to the views of this group.  If they adopted such views, they could benefit in certain ways:  1) they would encounter less persecution, because members of this sect were considered real Israelites by other Jews;  2) this sect was markedly different from Christians who admitted Gentiles as full members without circumcision, and 3) the Christians viewed the entire priestly system of Israel obsolete, never to be restored. To many Jews, Christians would appear to be against the Old Testament and the heritage of Israel.  

 

This situation explains why Hebrews pays so much attention to angels, and why 2:5 directly contradicts the notion that the future world would be ruled by an angel. Hebrews presents Christ as the ultimate Word of God, since God has spoken in His Son. There will be no other prophet to succeed Him. Hebrews spends much effort to present Christ as a king priest, a king as the Son of David, and like Melchizedek, a king who is also a priest. For such a doctrine, the writer of Hebrews needed only to show that this was what the Jewish Scriptures taught. In each of His three offices (prophet/priest/king) Jesus is a man, not an angel.

 

Further, if this hypothesis is correct, it shows why chapter 3 would refer to the unbelief of Israel, especially in the wilderness, and why attention is given to contrast Jesus with Moses (3:1-6) and the priesthood of Aaron (5:1-4 & chapters 7,9,10). This sect of Jews wanted a reformation of Jewish religious life without Christ. They wanted a continuance of obsolete offerings, ineffective to remove sin. Rather than a continuation of animal sacrifices, the gospel is that Christ as our Great High Priest came to make the final effective offering. His offering has power to cleanse the conscience; this offering would be made once only, and has been made by Jesus. That offering of Christ by Christ would make the ones who believe in Him perfect (i.e., acceptable and accepted) in the sight of God.  Any other view than this is a rejection of the One God sent.



[1] When we say we believe in verbal inspiration, we mean that each word, and even each letter (Matthew 5:17,18), in the original languages is correct and is what God decided to give us.  This He has done through holy men, enabled by the Holy Spirit to write accurately.  When we say plenary inspiration, we mean not just that the words used are accurate and without error, but that what God has chosen to tell us is complete.  He may say much of one thing and little of another.   He has spoken little of Melchizedek and much about Moses.  He said little about the creation of the stars and very much about how sacrifices were to be offered.  He has denied us all knowledge of the calendar time Christ will return and the names of almost all of His angels. We must bow our minds to believe His truth and to accept His right to reveal or withhold from us according to His will.